Speech delivered by Com. Prakash Rao, Secretary, Lok Raj Sangathan, at a meeting organised on June 26, 2022 on the subject ‘National Emergency 1975-77: Lessons for today’.
On the midnight of June 25-June 26, 1975, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, the then President of India, announced a state of National Emergency on the recommendation of then Prime minister Indira Gandhi. The Emergency remained in effect from June 25, 1975, to March 21, 1977, that is, for nearly 21 months.
Workers’ strikes were banned. Trade union leaders and student activists were jailed. Press censorship was imposed to prevent any criticism of the government being published. People were deprived of all the fundamental rights stated in the Constitution. Elections to the Lok Sabha were indefinitely postponed. Elected governments were dismissed in Gujarat and Tamilnadu.
The State brutally violated the human rights of people. Lakhs of people in cities and villages were forcibly sterilised in the name of population control. Slum dwellers were forcibly evicted. Their houses were razed to the ground.
Till today, people are told that Indira Gandhi took the decision to declare a national emergency because her political career was being threatened by court verdicts. This is not true. The truth is that National Emergency was imposed at the behest of the biggest monopoly houses. J R D Tata, Chairman of the Tata Group, said in an interview with the New York Times on 4 April, 1976, “Things had gone too far. You can’t imagine what we have gone through here–strikes, boycotts, demonstrations. Why, there were days I could not walk out of my office onto the street.”
It was a time when the dissatisfaction of the people with the political and economic system was leading to mass protests by workers, peasants, youth and students. The railway workers strike of 1974, kisan struggles in many parts of the country, and student and youth protests against unemployment showed that the people were fed up with the system. Large numbers of youth were enthusiastically responding to the call of communist revolutionaries for a revolution.
Looking back, the National Emergency was imposed to crush the struggle of the people and avert the danger of revolution.
No Guarantee for Rights
The emergency showed that the Indian Republic and its Constitution do not guarantee people’s rights.
The declaration of emergency was not in violation of the Constitution. Article 352 of the Constitution permits the Cabinet to advice the President to declare an emergency and deprive people of what are called fundamental rights. This problem, of lack of guarantee for the rights which belong to all members of society, did not disappear when the emergency was lifted in March 1977.
In the 45 years since 1977 till now, state terrorism has steadily escalated. Those in power have relied more and more on brute force to maintain their rule. They have enacted one draconian anti-democratic law after another to deprive people of their rights, in the name of fighting “separatism”, “terrorism”, “extremism” etc.
Various draconian laws such as the National Security Act (NSA), Terrorism and Disruptive Activities Act (TADA), Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) have been used to crush the democratic rights of people. The real aim of all these laws has been to criminalise all forms of dissent and legitimise arbitrary arrests and preventive detention for indefinite periods.
Lok Raj Sangathan along with other people and organisations opposed to state terrorism have consistently fought for the repeal of these laws. TADA was repealed following such mass protest. However, the rulers replaced it with the Prevention of Terrorism Act, (POTA) in 2002. When POTA was repealed following mass protests against it, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, or UAPA was brought in to replace it.
Those who rule India have been increasingly resorting to brute force and draconian laws against the people. They have over the past 47 years perfected various means of trampling on the rights of the people even without having to declare an emergency. Suppression of rights has only grown from bad to worse in our country.
The aim behind the “restoration of democracy” in 1977
The defeat of the Congress Party in the elections of 1977 was tom-tommed as a great victory for Indian democracy. But that is not true. Nothing changed in the nature of political power. Before the Emergency people did not have decision making power in their hands. After the Emergency also, nothing changed. The executive, the small group of Ministers and the President, retained all powers in their hands.
The “restoration of democracy” was engineered by the same ruling class which had imposed the National Emergency. The aim was to spread the illusion that the existing State, its Constitution and the system of representative democracy are perfectly fine and there was no need to fight for deep going changes in the political system. That the only problem was with the Congress Party and Indira Gandhi.
The jailing of various opposition leaders during the emergency was used to promote them as champions of democracy. When the elections of 1977 were announced, these leaders and their parties united to form the Janata Party. They won the Lok Sabha election in 1977 and formed a government headed by Morarji Desai. Following the disintegration of the Janata Party, the ruling class began to build the BJP as an alternative to the Congress party.
Both the declaration of emergency and the “restoration of democracy” were part of the plan of the ruling class. They together served the aim of safeguarding the existing system. They served the aim of preventing people from uniting and fighting for a system in which people would be the decision makers, and the Constitution actually guaranteed their human and democratic rights.
From the time of the declaration of the Emergency, enlightened minds of our country have been grappling with the problem of how to ensure that the human and democratic rights of people cannot be violated by the state under any pretext.
Communists and other political activists, human rights activists, activists of the workers, womens and peasant movement, political theorists, eminent judges and civil servants, university teachers, writers, film personalities — countless people have come together to contribute to find an answer these burning questions facing our society.
On the course of these long years of struggle, The Preparatory Committee for people’s empowerment, the forerunner organisation of the Lok Raj Sangathan, was founded in April 1993. It summed up the experience of Indian democracy.
The experience of the emergency period and all the developments since then show that the existing state and its Constitution cannot be relied upon to defend the interests of people. The Constitution does not guarantee us any rights. Our right to life, liberty, and free speech can be taken away any day. We are powerless in the present system.
All the problems facing Indian people stem from the marginalisation of people from decision making. The way forward was to transform the political system and process to ensure the empowerment of the people.
The democracy we have today is really not democracy for the people. People have no role in decision making. This power vests exclusively in the Cabinet constituted by the Party having a majority in parliament.
In the present system, the executive is not accountable to the legislature and the legislature is not accountable to the people. People have no role in the selection of candidates. Candidates are imposed on the electorate by the political parties of the ruling class. These candidates are called ‘people’s representatives’. But in fact they are representatives of their own parties and of the monopoly houses who finance them. People cannot recall their elected representatives if they are not satisfied with their work. People cannot initiate legislations.
Replacing one party in power with another will not change the reality that the human and democratic rights of the people are not guaranteed in the present system. It will not bring decision making power into the hands of the people.
The relation between the electors and the elected has to change. The electorate must have the right to select the candidates for election. The State must finance the entire process of selection and election. No private funding of any electoral campaign must be permitted.
People must not hand over decision-making power entirely into the hands of those who get elected. They must have the right to demand a rendering of account from their representatives. They must have the right to recall the person they elected at any time.
People must have the right to propose, approve or reject laws and policies; and the right to amend or reformulate the Constitution.
Once people have political power in their hands, they will be able to ensure that the economy is oriented to fulfil the needs of the masses of people. They will be able to ensure that their human and democratic rights are guaranteed.
Lok Raj Sangathan believes that the question of peoples empowerment is a non partisan issue. All political forces who are fighting for the rights of people, need to join hands to work for establishing a system in which political power is truly in the hands of the people. Only then can we begin to solve the problems facing our country.